- 4. JUST PROSTITUTES?
Comfort women being transportedA key fallacy about the comfort women system is that it was a form of “licensed prostitution.” Some people have repeatedly stressed that comfort women were voluntarily engaged in sexual intercourse for money, as is seen in the March 2007 international edition of Newsweek, which contains an article contributed by a Japanese rightwing supporter who calls the women “prostitutes.”
Comfort women on their way to be tested for STDs
Japanese soldiers waiting in line in front of a comfort stationBecause the comfort women system was modeled on the licensed prostitution system, there may have been similarities in format between the two. Yet, while the Japanese government was solely in charge of regulation of the licensed prostitution system, the military and the government still played important roles in operating the comfort women system. The Japanese state either operated brothels directly or controlled or supervised contracted civilians, who were required to submit daily or monthly reports. Recruitment of the women was performed by brokers who worked in close coordination with local police and military police. The Japanese armed forces provided all necessary transportation for the women, such as space aboard military trucks, trains, and warships.
Furthermore, the women’s freedom was severely restricted in the comfort
The old site of a comfort station in Jiqingli, Hankou, Chinastations. Recruited in many cases through abduction, deceit, and intimidation, the women were confined to the stations, where they were deprived of freedom and forcibly raped by Japanese soldiers. It is acknowledged in the memorandum issued in 2007 by the United States government’s Congressional Research Service that the sexual intercourse was not voluntary and that widespread rape had been committed. The women had no free choice of where to live or freedom of movement. Nor did they have the liberty of quitting, a key point of differentiation from licensed prostitutes. The comfort women were maintained specifically for the benefit of soldiers, and comfort women were even abandoned on the battlefield.
Military scrip used at a comfort station
Regulations for a comfort station in ShanghaiThe comfort women system was for a military purpose, whereas licensed prostitution was commercial. While Japan insists that the system was established to prevent the rape of local women, they do acknowledge that the comfort women were considered a tool for the soldiers’ successful performance in war.
Comfort women were not the same as licensed prostitutes, but were victims of a state-run system of sexual violence. Nevertheless, the day has yet to come when the Japanese government formally acknowledges its responsibility and offers a sincere apology and reasonable individual compensation to the victims.
- Three types of military comfort stations
- There were three types of comfort stations varying by operation: brothels operated directly by the military; brothels managed by civilians who had been selected and licensed by the military, which also controlled and supervised them; and existing local brothels designated as institutions for Japanese soldiers for a certain period of time. The second type was the one noted most frequently in Korean victims’ testimonies and seems to have been the most common.
Wooden barracks of a comfort station in Shanghai
- A Dutch woman’s testimony
Left: A newspaper article about the Dutch comfort women (Asahi Shimbun , August 30, 1992) Right: 50 Years of Silence was published by Jan Ruff-O’Herne in 1994.
- As a victim of the system, Jan Ruff-O’Herne testified before the United States House of Representatives that “Many stories have been told about the horrors, brutalities, suffering, and starvation of Dutch women in Japanese prison camps. But one story was never told, the most shameful story of the worst human rights abuse committed by the Japanese during World War II: the story of the ‘comfort women,’ the jugun ianfu, and how these women were forcibly seized against their will to provide sexual services for the Japanese Imperial Army. In the so-called comfort station, I was systematically beaten and raped day and night. Even the Japanese doctor raped me each time he visited the brothel to examine us for venereal disease.”
—Statement of Jan Ruff-O’Herne, Subcommittee on Asia, Pacific and the Global Environment, Committee on Foreign Affairs, United States House of Representatives